Language, Interaction, and Affect in Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Sridharan Vaidehi, Keerthi
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This thesis project consists of a conversation-analytic approach to performed affect, frame navigation, and creative language use in a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) context. Drawing on work in the domains of narrative processing, embodiment, affective production and perception, intertextuality, and the boundaries of play, this research investigates the role of language use in facilitating playful interaction and affect. TTRPG sessions are entertaining, playful experiences aimed at collaborative narrative building through the use of synthetic characters in a fictional world. Players speak as their characters, acting out their desires, motivations, and actions. The goal of TTRPG play is the collaborative construction of a narrative, and work in Discourse Studies has established that emotional narratives are more compelling and impactful than their non-emotional counterparts, generating identification and involvement from audience members with story world characters. TTRPG players, however, are in the unique position of both audience and creator, since their response to story world stimuli has the capacity to influence events in the narrative being constructed. Work in games scholarship illustrates that in emotional story world circumstances of conflict, loss, resolution, and levity, players employ affective cues to represent their characters’ emotions, even if it ’bleeds’ into a strong emotional response that has potential negative repercussions for the player. This research attempts to address the question of why players perform this affect, examining ten excerpts of play from Critical Role, an actual play Dungeons & Dragons show, that immediately follow or concern emotional story world circumstances and analyzing them for affective cues, their appraisal and affirmation, navigation across the game-reality boundary, and players’ capacity for creative language use. Ultimately, this work aims to contribute to the broader question of why we play narrative games and what we get out of them, through its analysis of the role played by language in facilitating creative interaction.